New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 August 2015
IS Blinds Journalists with Its Barbarity
By Robert Fisk
Specter Of Another War
By Ramzy Baroud
How Evil Is ISIL?
By James Denselow
The Two Wings Of The ‘Caliphate’
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
Is It A ‘War Coalition?’
By Nuray Mert
The Brutal Fight of Bangladesh’s Secular Voices to Be Heard
By Samira Shackle
Waking Up Through Islam
By Ali Bulac
By Robert Fisk
IS Blinds Journalists with Its Barbarity
By Robert Fisk
25 August 2015
LOOKING at a photograph of old archaeologist Khaled al Asaad’s headless corpse tied to a lamp-post in Palmyra – another image for the library of pornography that the self-styled Islamic State (IS) produces weekly – I was struck by how deeply the “Islamic Caliphate” has stabbed the world of journalism.
(Khaled Asaad, an 82-year-old Syrian archaeologist, was beheaded by IS in Palmyra last week).
I’m not just talking about the reporters it has murdered or of poor John Cantlie, whose videos from inside “Caliphate territory” is a “Thousand and One Nights” saga of Scherezade-style stories, each allowing him another day of life.
(John Cantlie, a 45-year-old British photographer, was kidnapped in Syria in Nov 2012 and remains a hostage to date).
In fact, Cantlie’s furious objections to the US and UK governments’ refusal to talk to IS to save the lives of hostages are valid, not least when the Americans can release Taliban prisoners in exchange for one of their own.
No. I’m talking of the insidious, dramatic yet almost unnoticed way in which IS and its propagandists in the Caliphate’s movie business – and in its house magazine Dabiq – have invalidated and in many ways erased one of the prime duties of journalism: to tell “the other side of the story”.
Since the Second World War, journalists have generally tried to explain the “why” as well as the “who” behind the story. If they failed after 9/11 – when the political reasons behind this crime against humanity would have necessitated an examination of US Middle East policy and the West’s support for Israel and Arab dictators – we’ve sometimes held our ground when it comes to “terror”.
Every time we (journalists) hear the Palestinians described as “terrorists”, we try to explain to readers and viewers that the Palestinian people are victims of a great “ethnic cleansing”, which depopulated 750,000 of their people – and thus their hundreds of thousands of descendants – at the hands of the new Israeli state.
Reporting on the Marxist Kurdish PKK forces in Turkey, all of whom are “terrorists” in the eyes of Ankara, there’s an obligation to report on the failure of the West to create a Kurdish state after the First World War, and on the 40,000 dead in Turkey’s hopeless war with its own Kurds over the past 31 years. Report that Saddam was called Hitler by George Bush, by all means, but also ask why the US supported the very same Saddam in the Iraq-Iran war.
The self-styled Islamic State has changed all this. The Express has exhausted its dictionary of revulsion on IS. “Bloodthirsty”, “sick”, “twisted”, “depraved”, “sadistic”, “vile” – we can only hope that nothing more horrible emerges to further test the paper’s eloquence.
The IS – in videos and online – proudly publishes its throat-cuttings and massacres. It revels in the mass shooting of prisoners, videotapes a pilot burning alive in a cage and prisoners tied in a car which is used as target practice for a rocket-propelled grenade. It depicts captives having their heads blown off with explosives or trapped in another cage while being slowly drowned in a swimming pool.
The IS is turning to the world of journalism and saying: “We’re not bloodthirsty, sick and depraved, we’re worse than that!”
How can journalists write with anything less than personal horror when Dabiq, the IS-run magazine, announces that “after capture, the Yazidi women and children were divided up according to the Shariah [law] among the fighters of the Islamic State... this large scale enslavement of... families is probably the first since the abandonment of Shariah law”. (Issue No 4, Islamic Year 1435, if anyone wants to check).
The same magazine even uses the word “massacre” when IS kills its enemies. Quotations from a vast array of long-dead Islamic prelates are used to justify this frenzy of cruelty. And yes, of course, Europe said the same about our enemies hundreds of years ago.
THE OTHER SIDE: So how, today, do we tell the “other side” of the story? Of course, we can trace the seedlings and the saplings of this cult of lost souls to the decades of cruelty which local Middle Eastern despots – usually with support of the West – visited upon their people.
Or the hundreds of thousands of dead Muslims for whose death we were ultimately responsible during and after our frightful – or “bloodthirsty” or “twisted” or “vile” – 2003 invasion of Iraq.
And we can – we must – spend far more time investigating the links between IS and their Islamist and rebel friends (Nusrah, Jaish al Islam, even the near-non-existent Free Syria Army) and the Saudis and Qataris and Turks, and indeed the degree to which US weapons have been sent across the border of Syria almost directly into IS hands.
Why does IS never attack Israel – indeed, why does its hatred of Crusaders, Shias and Christians, and sometimes Jews rarely if ever mention the very word “Israel”? And why do Israel’s air raids on Syria always target Syrian government or pro-Syrian Iranian forces, but never IS? Indeed, why are Turkey’s air assaults on IS – happily supported by Nato – far outnumbered by their air raids on the Kurdish PKK, some of whose forces in Syria are fighting Isis?
And how come the Turkish press have publicised a convoy of weapons being taken across the Syrian border to IS by Turkish intelligence agents? Are Turkish engineers running the IS-controlled oil wells, as Syrian oil engineers claim? And why did the IS propaganda boys wait until this month before denouncing – via a pretty lowly Caliphate official – Turkish President Erdogan, calling him “Satan” and urging Turks to rise up against his government?
It’s not the violence in IS videos and Dabiq we should be concentrating on.
It’s what the Isis leadership don’t talk about, don’t condemn, don’t mention upon which we should cast our suspicious eye. But that, of course, also means asking some questions of Turkey, America, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel.
Are we up to this? Or are we going to let IS stop us at last from carrying out one of the first duties of our trade – reporting the “other side of the story”?
Waking Up Through Islam
By ali Bulac
August 23, 2015
Those who argue that the Muslim world cannot recover after its defeat against the West are raising their discourse as liberals, conservatives, leftists, socialists or nationalists on the political stage.
Islamists, on the other hand, argue that they will resurrect Islam by relying on its main messages.
It is only natural to see that pro-Westerners stand against the attempts to use Islam as a reference in regional, social or political initiatives. But the problem is that those who pick Islam as a religion divide it into two categories (theology and ethics, and politics and state) and argue that faith and ethics actually matter. They maintain that Islam could achieve its goals in the world without its political principles, and they use this as an anti-Islamist rhetoric and argument. This seems to me unfeasible for two reasons:
a) Islam is an integrated whole; unlike other religions, it has an established and concrete set of legal rules. It is possible to argue that its theological premises are taken to serve as a basis for religious rituals and practices. One can respect this view, but it is different to argue that Islam has no provisions on the world or that these provisions are relatively insignificant compared to its theological principles. Unfortunately, today, a religious secular tendency, referred to as social-civilian Islam, which reduces Islam to pure theology and ethics, is gaining strength and support in Turkey.
b) If a Muslim opinion leader, scholar, or ruler who uses religion as a reference, raises ideas and views on administrative, material, social and regional issues, that person must refer to religious premises in this endeavor. Nobody has ever dared to argue that they would not need to rely on religious evidence as a Muslim opinion leader, politician or scholar. There have been many different paths and schools, but the representatives of these schools and paths have all felt the need to rely on religious evidence.
Everybody has the right and duty to criticize Islamists. But should not the criticism of a liberal, nationalist or a leftist be different from the criticism of a religious person? An Islamist should be criticized from an Islamic perspective. If you criticize them based on Western values, you pick the West as an arbiter over Islam. This is the greatest mistake in the history of Islam.
No one has proposed any new ideas in the last 150 years except Islamists. It is not proper to rely on translations of Western books, to develop Western academic models or offer policies based on Western values; this is the comfortable thing to do. Ours is a religious and theological discussion on the existential juncture of the religion. Arguing that Islamism is no longer useful means that we have given up on our cause of reviving Islam.
Sincere Muslims should decide on the following: Will we secularize Islam by setting aside its claim to regulate daily life? Or will we keep struggling for the establishment of a just and moral world? Profiting from the historical and political experience of the West is different from imitating it. The Western models have been tested in policies of modernization; there is no option other than waking up and reviving ourselves through Islam.
The Brutal Fight of Bangladesh’s Secular Voices to Be Heard
By Samira Shackle
22 August 2015
In February 2015, Avijit Roy and his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, travelled from their home in Atlanta, Georgia, to Dhaka, the capital Bangladesh. This was their home town, and they were attending the annual Ekushey book fair, which runs all month. They had been unable to attend in 2014 because Roy had received death threats after the publication of his book The Virus of Faith, which criticised religion.
The couple were familiar with controversy. They ran a Bengali-language web forum called Mukto-Mona, or Free Minds, promoting rationalist thought, and had been threatened by Islamic fundamentalists. During their trip to Dhaka, they avoided being out late at night, varied their routines and checked in regularly with relatives. For the first 10 days, the strategy seemed to work.
On 26 February, they attended a series of events at the University of Dhaka, where the book fair is held. They left in the evening, walking back to their car through a crowded and well-lit area. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a group of masked men with machetes. Ahmed doesn’t remember what happened next, as the knives rained down upon them. There were hundreds of people around, including police officers. They did not step in. After the attack, a young journalist intervened and drove them to the hospital. Ahmed survived, severely injured. It was too late for Roy, who died during the drive.
“We knew the risks,” Ahmed told me when we met in central London four months after the attack. She is a small woman in her 40s with short, cropped hair, wide eyes and a youthful face. Because of the attack, she is missing a thumb. “Avi was there on his own in 2012, and he was pretty open and nothing happened, so we were not ready for this. Our daughter” – a student – “says we underestimated the situation. We thought, OK, there could be protests, there could be people yelling and screaming – but not this.” She pauses, struggling with herself. “We knew, we knew how dangerous it could be.”
Ahmed’s scalp and neck also bear scars; she was stabbed repeatedly in the head. She is quick to laugh, but says her thoughts are “scattered” by the heavy medication. She gets tired quickly because of the head injuries.
Roy, who held dual US and Bangladeshi nationality, was the most prominent atheist writer to be attacked in Bangladesh, but he was not the first – or the last. On 30 March, a month after Roy’s murder, another blogger, Washiqur Rahman Babu, was set upon by a group of masked assailants. On 12 May, Ananta Bijoy Das, who wrote for Mukto-Mona on rationalism and science, was attacked in his hometown of Sylhet. On 7 August, men with machetes broke into the Dhaka home of Niloy Chakrabarti, a blogger who used the pen name Niloy Neel. All three men died.
The four murders in 2015 were brutal and happened in quick succession, prompting police action. Three people have been arrested – including a British citizen, Touhidur Rahman – over the deaths of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das. But the violence goes back further. It began on 15 January 2013, when atheist blogger and political activist Asif Mohiuddin was on his way to work and was attacked from behind by a group of men with machetes. “I [thought] I would die,” he tells me over Skype from his new home in Germany. “But somehow I survived.” He spent weeks in intensive care, and still finds it difficult to move his neck. “I think I will carry this problem all my life.”
A month later, another blogger critical of Islamic fundamentalism, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was attacked in the same way outside his house in Dhaka. He did not survive. In August 2014, someone broke into the Dhaka home of TV personality Nurul Islam Faruqi, who had criticised fundamentalist groups on air, and slit his throat. A humanist academic, Professor Shafiul Islam, who had pushed for a ban on full-face veils for students, was murdered near Rajshahi University in west Bangladesh in November.
These brutal crimes have gone unpunished; arrests have not led to prosecutions. The government appears unwilling, or unable, to stand with atheists. Instead, in an attempt to appease Islamists, it has ramped up its own actions against “blasphemous” bloggers. Secularists are terrified. Many have stopped writing altogether, some have left the country and others are desperately seeking an exit. Who is behind these attacks on atheists, a tiny subset of the Muslim-majority population? And can Bangladesh’s secular tradition survive in the face of such violence?
Bangladesh was born out of the partition of India in 1947, when it was labelled East Pakistan, officially part of the new homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. The independence movement began in the 1950s, and came to a head with the bloody 1971 war of independence, which saw genocide of liberation forces by West Pakistan. The war brought to the forefront tensions within Bangladesh. On one side were Islamists, who supported West Pakistan, arguing that it was an affront to Islam for Bangladesh to declare independence. On the other were secularists who wanted a state free of the religious strictures and economic marginalisation they suffered as part of Pakistan. The latter group won the battle of ideas, and the country’s constitution guaranteed secularism as a founding principle.
It didn’t last. Power was seized by the military in 1975 and, as had happened in Pakistan, a process of Islamisation began. In 1977, military leaders removed secularism from the constitution and declared Islam the state religion. This remained the case until 2010, when the supreme court restored the principle of secularism. Islam remained the state religion. This fractious history points to an unresolved question: what is the true identity of Bangladesh? Perhaps unsurprisingly for a debate born out of such violence, it is a polarising subject.
“There is a rationalist intellectual tradition that goes back to the 19th century,” says Dr Sumit Ganguly, professor of Indian Civilisations at Indiana University. “There was already a cultural consensus about an openness to the world, a certain cosmopolitanism, reflected in the work of prominent writers.” But, he explains, this secular tradition did not exist in isolation. “There was always a strain of bigotry, of closed-mindedness – Hindus and Muslims were contemptuous of each other. During Bangladesh’s earlier heritage as East Pakistan, various forms of bigotry were actively promoted by the state.”
During the years, that conservative segment of the population has been empowered by periods of religious-minded military rule. One of the two main parties, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), is allied with religious groups. The other, the Awami League, is secular. But, as religion has become an ever more sensitive topic, they too have capitulated to the religious lobby.
It was against this backdrop that a small but committed community of secularist bloggers began to emerge in the mid-2000s. The first Bengali-language public blogging platform, somewhereinblog.net, was launched in 2005. But gradually, some noticed an increasing volume of religious material.
“Day by day, I saw the Islamisation of blogs,” says Mohiuddin. “In Bangladesh, Islamic groups control the mainstream media and TV channels – and they were trying to control the blogs as well.” He and other writers started their own sites, contributing to each other’s blogs and starting Facebook discussions on history, philosophy, science, law and feminism. Some posts were explicitly critical of the government; others dealt with religious texts. “I criticised many verses of the Qur’an and the Bible because I thought those verses were not compatible with modern society,” says Mohiuddin.
It was through this virtual group of Bangladeshi atheists that Roy and Ahmed first made contact. They began to speak on the phone, discussing their ideas, how they both came to atheism. His background was Hindu, hers Muslim; he had abandoned faith at 19, she had at 13. Both came from liberal families who accepted their non-belief. On the phone, she teased him that he’d discovered atheism so late. They debated ideas and swapped stories about their family lives. They soon met and became a couple. “That marriage was a lot of work,” she says. “We grew and changed all the time and we didn’t agree on everything – but we were committed.”
When they first met in 2001, Roy had recently established Mukto-Mona as a small Yahoo forum. In 2002, Ahmed helped him set up the first Mukto-Mona website. Mukto-Mona became one of the central points for Bangladesh’s small community of atheist writers. They grew close; Ahmed describes Bijoy Das, murdered three months after her husband, as “a little brother”. She had recently come out of the intensive care unit when she heard about his death. “Every time I went to Bangladesh, I would give him the bus fare to go home, because he was a student,” she says. “I just lost my whole recovery when I heard about him.”
The scars of the 1971 war of independence have recently been reopened, drawing to the surface the tension between Islamists and secularists. In 2010, the Awami League began a war crimes tribunal aimed at bringing the perpetrators of mass killings to justice. From the outset, it was controversial. Critics saw it as political score-settling by Sheikh Hasina, prime minister and head of the Awami League, for the slaughter of her father in the military coup of 1975.
Many bloggers were vocal supporters of the tribunal. The trial came to a head in late 2012 and early 2013, and it was at this point that fundamentalists turned their attention to atheist writers.
In January 2013 Mohiuddin was knifed, and in February Haider was killed. Both were active in the Shahbag protest movement, comprised of secularists supportive of the war crimes tribunal. After the attacks, thousands took to the streets, calling for justice for Mohiuddin and Haider. “This is where the tension [reached] a new level,” says Sumit Galhotra, Asia researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “But Bangladesh was already on this trajectory. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, there were authors who had to flee the country, long before the current crisis.”
It did not take long for Islamists to form counter-protests, calling for the death penalty for blasphemers and atheists. Protests descended into violent clashes. Islamist fundamentalists published a hit-list of 84 bloggers. Many had used pseudonyms; now they were outed. Newspapers ran inflammatory articles about non-believers. Many went into hiding, fearful of vigilante attack. Mohiuddin took to covering his face with a mask when he left the house.
The group leading the counter-protests, Hefazat-e-Islam, issued a 13-point list of demands. Among other hardline demands apparently inspired by the Taliban, it called for punishment for the leaders of the Shahbag movement. Rather than defending the right to freedom of expression, Hasina capitulated. In April 2013, four bloggers from the list distributed by Islamists were arrested. One of them was Mohiuddin, who had been attacked with machetes three months earlier.
“I was very angry when the government started arresting secular bloggers,” he says. “They were officially recognising the fundamentalist message – these people are atheists and they have to be killed. We had problems now from Islamic groups and the so-called secular Awami League.”
Prison was a dangerous place for Mohiuddin. His name and photograph had been in newspapers, and Islamist groups had incorrectly labelled him the leader of the country’s secular bloggers. “The first day I was in prison, all the prisoners shouted that in the morning they will cut me into pieces. I thought, this is the end of my life, and tomorrow morning they are going to kill me.” At one point, he was placed in a cell with two of the men who had attacked him. They were unrepentant.
Mohiuddin was in jail for three months, accused of criticising Islam and the prophet. He was bailed for a month before being imprisoned again for nine days. After that, he went to Germany to take up a scholarship. He plans to remain in Europe for several years, until it is safe for him to return home. “They are still looking for me. Just a few days ago I got threats. It has become very normal for me, but I still have to take care. I don’t share my location anywhere.”
Mohiuddin’s ordeal neatly crystallises the double threat faced by bloggers – Islamist violence on the one hand, and official repression on the other. The crisis faced by atheist writers is unfolding against a backdrop of a wider clampdown on press freedom. “It’s been a really bad time for the media,” says Galhotra. “Sheikh Hasina’s government has been going after anyone reporting critically on her.” The editor of Amardesh, an opposition newspaper, is behind bars, while two TV news channels affiliated with the opposition remain off-air. Some Islamist bloggers have been arrested.
While tension about the war crimes tribunal has now died down, violence against atheist writers has surged. “One of the reasons is that Bangladesh has allowed a culture of impunity to flourish over the years,” says Galhotra. Arrests have been made after the four murders this year, but given that those charged with Haider’s killing in 2013 have still not stood trial, relatives are not hopeful. The attack on Roy and Ahmed this year gained international attention, but the Bangladeshi government made no comment. Eventually, in May, Hasina’s son, Sajeeb Wazed, spoke to Reuters: “Our mother offered private condolences to Avijit’s father. But the political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment further … given that our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we can’t come out strongly for him. It’s about perception, not about reality.”
The impact on Bangladesh’s close-knit group of secularist bloggers has been drastic. Many have stopped writing. Mohiuddin bears the scars of this battle of ideas on his body; when he wakes up each morning, he has to stay still for 20 minutes before he can move his neck. But he is most distressed by the loss of his work. When the government banned his blog, they deleted all its content from the server. “I cannot live my life without writing. I am breathing, so I have to write. I was very upset for that blog. I have to start everything from the beginning.”
Ahmed speaks about her husband in the present tense, and is grieving her loss. “It’s a process. I am still under treatment. It’s going to take a while. I feel nothing any more, absolutely nothing.”
Throughout their relationship, the couple gave each other handwritten letters. Ahmed’s last letter to Roy was written on 12 February, two weeks before he died. In it, she remembered that, when they first met, she criticised him for neglecting books because he was too focused on the internet. “I wrote to him and said, ‘Now you read so much more, and I have slowed down. You encourage me and remind me that I need to get back to that. I guess that’s the strength we have, that we encourage each other.’”
Her phone bleeped with messages from Mukto-Mona’s international network of moderators, determined to keep the discussion going. But the public space for Bangladesh’s atheist writers and activists is closing all the time.
Is It A ‘War Coalition?’
By Nuray Mert
Turkey is now a “failed country” in many respects that is in total turmoil. Nevertheless, the failure of the Kurdish peace process and the return to arms is the most urgent problem. Most importantly, it costs lives, but freedoms also are suppressed on the pretext of the war on terror, while political crises are also deepening and the economy is sinking as a result.
In fact, the last so-called “peace process” which started two-and-a-half years ago could not be managed by either the government or the Kurdish political body. From the beginning, the major problem was the ambiguity on the definition of the “Kurdish political solution” and indeed on the definition of the “Kurdish political body.”
We all know that the political body was constituted by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party(PKK), its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, its armed wing in Kandil and finally the Kurdish political parties (under different names after each closure), which receive the support of PKK sympathizers. The government considered Öcalan the sole power center and hoped to make “a favorable deal” with him; this is how the last peace process and meetings with Öcalan began. Then, however, Kurds declared their decision to unite their political fate with the fate of Turkey’s democratization and aimed to found a political party with broad political support; that is how the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) came onto the scene.
As the negotiations with Öcalan continued, nobody really knew what was at stake, since it was not a transparent political process. When we asked about the content of the deal, we were accused by the government of “sabotaging peace by criticism.” Besides, democrats who inquired about the peace process were also almost accused by their Kurdish political friends of being over-skeptical about Kurdish politics and of putting their opposition to the government before Kurdish interests.
As the government refrained from taking democratic and judicial steps to sustain a political solution, Kurdish politicians seemed not to be bothered, since they must have been satisfied by the informal promises. It was so far, so bad.
Now, things got even more complicated, since after the HDP successfully obtained 13 percent of the votes, which is far beyond the PKK’s support, the PKK “surprisingly” decided to start armed struggle again. Now, Kurds have tried to justify the decision by the bomb blast in Suruç which happened just after the election and killed dozens of youth who were there to give civilian support to Kobane. However, it is not a very convincing justification, since more civilians were killed in a few days of demonstrations for Kobane last October and there have been some more provocations against the cease-fire before. It is not convincing also because the PKK’s decision ultimately played into the hand of the president and his party who are trying to delegitimize the HDP as a democratic force.
It was the HDP’s election success which weakened the governing party and not only prevented a new AKP government, but also the plans for a presidential system. Moreover, the HDP’s main election promise was to “hinder the presidential system.” It seems that the peace process ended because Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government’s plan to make a deal with Kurds on a presidential system is failed.
The crucial question is why Kurds, too, are helping those who opt for war when their plans failed and why they decided to sacrifice their democratic success? What is the position of Öcalan? Is it possible that the PKK made such a big decision to return to armed struggle without that authorization or with the opposition of Öcalan? Since Öcalan communicates with the outside world only through Turkish intelligence, is it possible that the communication is being meddled with, or what? Why are Kurdish politicians prioritizing the demand for starting dialogue with Öcalan over objections against the HDP’s criminalization and delegitimization? Why are some Kurdish municipalities declaring “autonomy” in the middle of this mess?
A Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporter and academic stated in an interview that the government plans to start negotiations after the PKK is weakened. Even if this is true, it sounds like a confession that the peace process only meant a horse trading and was nothing to do with democratization and social peace.
If that is so for AKP, what about the Kurds? Are they also considering going back to horse trading? If not, why form a “war coalition” with the AKP, against the HDP, democracy and social peace? They owe a serious answer to all of us who want peace and democracy. Why, why, why?
The Two Wings of The ‘Caliphate’
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
24 August 2015
ISIS’ activity in Sirte and Sinai is illustrative of a strategy by ISIS to create two centers of power not only to destabilize Libya and Egypt but neighboring countries from West Africa to Saudi Arabia. These two wings of the caliphate need to be recognized for what they are: A strategic and tactical pincher move to “pop” Egypt and spread ISIS’ deviant ideology across North Africa. ISIS is also looking at the outer edge of the caliphate’s appendages to form the space necessary to send more fighters from the Caliphates core in the Levant to Libya and Egypt.
ISIS was displaced in Derna by Majlis Shura Al-Mujahideen which is an al-Qaeda affiliate. But the defeat didn’t matter because ISIS is pliable. ISIS is able to fill the gaps in Libya and choose Sirte as its next stronghold because of its strategic location.
Since the fall of Sirte into ISIS’ grip in May, the group massacred hundreds through executions involving decapitations and crucifixions of Sirte’s residents to proclaim its intent to control all aspects of the port city’s citizenry and physical assets. Sirte is a more formidable hub for ISIS then the former stronghold of Derna because Sirte is a major port city. Mediterranean Sea access is now an ISIS prerogative.
A center of ISIS action
Sinai is also a center of ISIS action with almost daily attacks by ISIS’ appendage on the peninsula. Rumors of Sinai tribal infighting don’t seem to be working as a communications strategy by Egypt. Instead, the Sinai is increasingly becoming the launch point for other ISIS operations in Egypt specifically targeting Cairo. The assassination of Egypt’s chief prosecutor, the attack on the Italian Consulate in Cairo last month and now a powerful car bomb detonated outside am Egyptian state security building in northern Cairo which injured 29 people, including six policemen, shows that ISIS wants to break President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s ability to govern by forcing an armed struggle to disrupt Egyptian society. ISIS also executed Croatian hostage Tomislav Salopek and kidnapped four Hamas supporters in an expansive attack against the Palestinian Islamist group. If nothing is done, the strategy and the tactics by ISIS may just work to destabilize Egypt and gain control of more waterways. That outcome would be disastrous.
Why are the two wings becoming more important to contend with through kinetic force? According to an Arab official, the reason is that there may be a regional deal on Syria soon. What to do with the rump Syria appears to be coalescing in Russia with the Kremlin acting as a focal point for the GCC and Iran to settle the near term for Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is likely that a Moscow-3 round of Syrian negotiations will be announced.
A Syrian peace agreement will have an impact on the two ISIS wings. With a potential agreement brokered by Moscow, ISIS fighters will likely flow to the two wings in order to focus on further destabilization of Libya and Egypt in order to open a full blown second front. To boot, from Libya, ISIS can further enact its plan to network its destabilization plan. It’s a threat to not only Algeria and Morocco but also Niger and Mali. Linking up with Boko Harum is part of the action plan for Caliphate expansionism.
Calling for international action
Again, Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk is appealing to Arab states to launch air strikes against militants allied to ISIS. Egypt has repeatedly called for international action against the ISIS group in Libya, appealing for U.N. intervention in February and warning that the Libyan unrest threatens the whole region. Egypt launched its own air strikes inside Libya that same month, after Islamic State militants killed dozens of Egyptian Christians in the infamous “Message in Blood to the Christian Nation.”
Overall, the two wings of the caliphate need to be addressed post haste. With Operation Golden Arrow, combined with the Saudi-led operation Yemen making significant progress, the next step in pacifying ongoing extremist trends in the region by military force needs to focus on Libya and Egypt. By finding a fix to the Syrian mess via Moscow, Arab forces can concentrate on clipping the wings and taking the air out of ISIS in North Africa.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans.
How Evil Is ISIL?
By James Denselow
24 Aug 2015
Hordes of black clad fighters overrunning historic Middle Eastern cities, brutal Hollywood-style executions and thousands of recruits flocking from across the globe has made the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) a priority enemy as its shift from contagion to pandemic gathers momentum.
The wide ranging informal coalition - which is united in the fight against ISIL - grows larger and more committed by the day, with the significant addition of Turkey last month being seen by many as a "game-changer".
ISIL is described by world leaders as evil incarnate, barbaric and inhumane, a virus rather than a human creation that needs to be destroyed.
So how evil is ISIL? Is it an evolution in both the ideology and application of violence, or rather, does it represent the "perfect enemy", which allows a variety of political actors to pursue their own agendas under the guise of fighting them?
Whether it's the Turks looking to address domestic issues concerning their Kurdish population, the Syrian regime looking to divide those opposed to it, or European countries implementing wide-scale domestic security policies, many are fighting ISIL in different ways for substantially different reasons.
However, the umbrella of "irrational evil" that places ISIL on the same plane as the Orcs from Lords of the Rings, allows actors to pursue policies without the same degree of scrutiny and critical interrogation.
Firstly, observers of ISIL often fall into the trap of being ahistoric.
The fighters did not suddenly emerge unheralded from underground, but rather were the product of the state collapse and civil strife that followed the 2003 Iraq War and the 2011 Syrian conflict.
Writing in the Guardian, Natalie Nougayrede argued that "it is precisely because civilians are not being protected that ISIL has been able to grow. ISIL has been able to cast itself as the sole protector of Sunni civilians as they continue to be massacred by the barrel bombs and air power of the Syrian regime".
There is much misinformation being circulated about the scale and origins of sectarianism in the modern Middle East - but there can be little doubt of how ISIL chooses to use it as a source of legitimacy.
By demonising ISIL, you remove any sense of needing to understand that legitimacy, and instead, focus entirely on whatever response you choose to pursue.
A Pentagon press briefing last year laid out in no uncertain terms that ISIL fighters "are an imminent threat to every interest we have", while world leaders have engaged in an arms race to see who can describe ISIL in the harshest terms.
Network of death
Last year, US President Barack Obama described ISIL as a "network of death" and warned that "there can be no reasoning - no negotiation - with this brand of evil".
British Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, has described the fight against ISIL as the "challenge of a generation".
The candidates for the next US presidential election are also getting in on the debate with Jeb Bush blaming Hilary Clinton for the rise of ISIL, and Senator Lindsey Graham warning that "if you don't do what I'm talking about, you're not serious about destroying ISIL".
So is ISIL evil or does it simply use the tools of globalisation and abhorrent tactics?
In John Gray's book, Al Qaeda and What It Means to be Modern, the philosopher warned that we were witnessing the growth of a "privatised form of organised violence worldwide".
Closed online communities are acting as echo chambers that are corroborating world views and shifting notions of what is and isn't acceptable.
Suicide bombings of the 1990s appeared in the zeitgeist of evil tactics, but the theatre-managed, mass executions that ISIL specialises in show how far these tactics have developed.
Seeking roots of legitimacy
ISIL networks flourish in a potent mix of history and conspiracy theory of Western subjugation of the Middle East that allows often vulnerable people to be attracted to the promise of a new "caliphate" that seeks its roots of legitimacy in the narrative of a glorious past.
ISIL's propaganda machine, a key component in the success of the group achieving worldwide notoriety, must revel in the language used against it.
Just as its flag is black and white, so is the binary that it uses of "them and us", and language-shaping images of a clash of civilisations that further encourage recruits and supporters to flock to the cause.
There is an increasing need for nuance, complexity, and challenge in the debate over who ISIL is and what the right tactics to defeat it are.
The straw dog of ISIL hides in the shadow of every issue political leaders want to address. In the absence of nuance, the spectre of ISIL will be conflated with the reality of an organisation, to the detriment of any coherent strategy.
Indeed, while the coalition aligned against ISIL is impressive in both its scope and its language, its clear weakness is its vision for how to fight this fight beyond the short term.
Ultimately, deploying the language of "evil" against ISIL is lazy, naive, and often counter-productive. What these words invoke plays into the hands of those in the group who revel in the images of their savage notoriety and are purposefully painting a picture of a millennial conflict that will last generations. A grim prospect indeed.
James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues and a research associate at the Foreign Policy Centre.
Specter of Another War
By Ramzy Baroud
25 August 2015
Another war is in the making in Libya: The questions are “how” and “when”? While the prospect of another military showdown is unlikely to deliver Libya from its current security upheaval and political conflict, it is likely to change the very nature of conflict in that rich, but divided, Arab country.
An important pre-requisite to war is to locate an enemy or, if needed, invent one. The so-called Daesh, although hardly an important component in the country’s divisive politics, is likely to be that antagonist.
Libya is currently split, politically, between two governments, and, geographically, among many armies, militias, tribes and mercenaries. It is a failed state par excellence, although such a designation does not do justice to the complexity of the Libyan case, together with the root causes of that failure.
Now that Daesh has practically taken over the city of Sirte, the scene is becoming murkier than ever before. Conventional wisdom has it that the advent of the opportunistic, bloodthirsty group is a natural event considering the security vacuum resulting from political and military disputes. But there is more to the story.
Several major events led to the current stalemate and utter chaos in Libya. One was the military intervention by NATO, which was promoted, then, as a way to support Libyans in their uprising against Qaddafi.
The urgency, which NATO assigned to its war — the aim of which was, supposedly, to prevent a possible “genocide” — kept many in the media either supportive or quiet. Few dared to speak out:
“While NATO’s UN mandate was to protect civilians, the alliance, in practice, turned that mission on its head. Throwing its weight behind one side in a civil war to oust Qaddafi’s regime, it became the air force for the rebel militias on the ground,” wrote Seumas Milne in the Guardian in May 2012.
“So while the death toll was perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 when NATO intervened in March, by October it was estimated by the NTC (National Transitional Council) to be 30,000 — including thousands of civilians.”
Another important event was the elections. Libyans voted in 2014, yielding a bizarre political reality where two “governments” claim to be the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people: One in Tobruk and Beida, and the other in Tripoli. Each “government” has its own military arms, tribal alliances and regional benefactors. Moreover, each is eager to claim a larger share of the country’s massive oil wealth and access to ports, thus running its own economy.
The most that these governments managed to achieve, however, is a political and military stalemate, interrupted by major or minor battles and an occasional massacre. That is, until Daesh appeared on the scene.
The sudden advent of Daesh was convenient. At first, the Daesh threat appeared as an exaggerated claim by Libya’s Arab neighbors. Then, it was verified by video evidence showing Daesh “giants” slitting the throats of poor Egyptian laborers at some mysterious beach. Then, with little happening in between, Daesh fighters began taking over entire towns, prompting calls by Libyan leaders for military intervention.
But the takeover of Sirte by Daesh cannot be easily explained in so casual a way as a militant group seeking inroads in a politically divided country. That sudden takeover happened within a specific political context that can explain the rise of Daesh more convincingly.
In May, Libya Dawn’s 166th Brigade (affiliated with groups that currently control Tripoli) withdrew from Sirte without much explanation.
“A mystery continues to surround the sudden withdrawal of the brigade,” wrote Kamel Abdallah in Al-Ahram weekly. “Officials have yet to offer an account, in spite of the fact that this action helped Daesh forces secure an unrivalled grip on the city.”
While Salafi fighters, along with armed members of the Al-Qadhadhfa tribe, moved to halt the advances of Daesh (with terrible massacres reported, but not yet verified) both Libyan governments are yet to make any palpable move against Daesh.
Instead, as Daesh moves forward and consolidates its grip on Sirte and elsewhere, the Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni urged “sister Arab nations” to come to Libya’s aid and carry out air strikes on Sirte. He has also urged Arab countries to lobby the UN to end its weapons embargo on Libya, which is already saturated with arms that are often delivered illegally from various regional sources.
The Tripoli government is also urging action against Daesh, but both governments, which failed to achieve a political road map for unity, still refuse to work together. The call for Arab intervention in Libya’s state of security bedlam is politically-motivated, of course, for Al-Thinni is hoping that the air strikes would empower his forces to widen their control over the country, in addition to strengthening his government’s political position in any future UN-mediated agreement.
But another war is being plotted elsewhere, this time involving NATO’s usual suspects. The western scheming, however, is far more involved than Al-Thinni’s political designs. The London Times reported on Aug. 1 that “hundreds of British troops are being lined up to go to Libya as part of a major new international mission,” which will also include “military personnel from Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the US … in an operation that looks set to be activated once the rival warring factions inside Libya agree to form a single government of national unity.”
Those involved in the operation which, according to a UK government source, could be actualized “toward the end of August”, are countries with vested economic interests and are the same parties behind the war in Libya in 2011.
Commenting on the report, Jean Shaoul wrote, “Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, is expected to provide the largest contingent of ground troops. France has colonial and commercial ties with Libya’s neighbors, Tunisia, Mali and Algeria. Spain retains outposts in northern Morocco and the other major power involved, Germany, is once again seeking to gain access to Africa’s resources and markets.”
It is becoming clearer that Libya, once a sovereign and relatively wealthy nation, is becoming a mere playground for a massive geopolitical game and large economic interests and ambitions. Sadly, Libyans themselves are the very enablers behind the division of their own country.
The takeover of Sirte by Daesh is reported as a watershed moment that is, once again, generating war frenzy — similar to that which preceded NATO’s military intervention in 2011.